Retired NIDDK Biochemist Sidney Chernick Is Mourned
By Sharon Ricks
Dr. Sidney S. Chernick, a retired captain in the PHS Commissioned Corps and a biochemist with NIDDK for 35 years, died of a heart attack on Apr. 21 at Bethesda Naval hospital. He was 76.
Dr. Sidney S. Chernick
"Dr. Chernick was a distinguished scientist in NIDDK for many years," remarked Dr. Phillip Gorden, NIDDK director. His studies of dietary liver necrosis in rats demonstrated an early biochemical lesion in this condition. He also analyzed hormonal regulation of lipid metabolism during diabetes, pregnancy and lactation; researched obesity and the action of insulin on adipose tissue; and studied the regulation and synthesis of lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that removes fat from the bloodstream.
"Chernick was one of the first scientists to use radiocarbon-labeled sugars in metabolic research," said Dr. Robert Scow, an NIDDK scientist emeritus and a friend of Chernick's for 55 years. Chernick isolated these sugars from starch produced by tobacco plants while working on the Manhattan Project at the University of California, Berkeley. The plants were grown in the lab with C14-labeled carbon dioxide obtained as a cyclotron byproduct. He used C14-glucose to show that liver can form carbon dioxide and fatty acids from glucose and that diabetes greatly reduces glucose utilization in the liver.
Scow met Chernick in 1943 at UC-Berkeley and again 10 years later at NIDDK, where they began a productive scientific collaboration in 1956. "As a colleague, he was talkative, inquisitive and often argumentative, but never in a personal way," said Scow. "Sometimes I would come to work on Monday morning hoping to outsmart Sid with special knowledge on some subject I acquired over the weekend by reading the Encyclopedia Britannica. Invariably, I lost."
Chernick was also a mentor of 1994 Nobel Laureate Martin Rodbell. He taught him how to study hormone action using radioisotopes. He also trained scientists from the United States, Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Japan and Yugoslavia. "Sid was a very interesting man," said Scow. "He liked to be on center stage, whether in a discussion, singing or playing the piano, but he never seemed to seek glory for himself."
Chernick augmented his professional career with a special interest in cystic fibrosis. He constantly scoured the journals and frequently gave good ideas on treating patients to his wife, Milica Chernick, a doctor in the Clinical Center. Mila, as she is known informally, says that during their outpatient visits, her cystic fibrosis patients always asked first about him.
"I first got to know Sidney when I was a patient of his wife, Mila," said Charles Tolchin. "I was on ward 9-D at NIH, and he would stop by late each afternoon to pick up Mila. He always made time to schmooze and regale me with stories from his early days."
Chernick received an A.B. in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1943. He received an M.A. in 1945 and a Ph.D. in 1948 from Berkeley. In 1951, he became professor of physiology and pharmacology at North Dakota State University. He retired from NIH in 1987.
"Sid Chernick was a delight, a knowledgeable and committed scientist, a dependable optimist and a concerned and kind person," added NIDDK's Dr. Jay Hoofnagle.
"It is hard to know that we will never again see that wonderful smile or hear that infectious laugh," said Tolchin's father, Martin.
Contributions in Chernick's memory may be sent to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
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